What will the Pittsburgh Steelers do with running back Le’Veon Bell this offseason? Will they dare franchise tag him again, and especially if it’s ruled that they have to do so at the quarterback amount? What about placing a flimsy transition tag on Bell prior to this year’s deadline, will they consider that option?
It’s hard to know for sure which way the Steelers will go with Bell this offseason and while team president Art Rooney II did admit during a Wednesday interview with Bob Pompeani of KDKA that the organization does have the option of tagging the running back again this offseason should they so choose, he claimed a final decision has yet to be made on if that will happen.
“Again, we haven’t made any decisions on Le’Veon whether we’ll do anything or not, Rooney said. That will be part of the offseason evaluation as time goes on.
According to November speculation by former NFL agent Joel Corry, Bell’s transition tag amount for 2019 would likely be $14.544 million, which was the same as the running back’s franchise tag amount in 2018. He explained why that should be the amount after close examination of the league’s CBA.
“This number would be the greater of 120 percent of Bell’s prior year salary or the sum of the transition numbers at running back (average of 10 largest salaries annually) over the last five years divided by the cumulative salary caps for the same period where the resulting percentage is multiplied by the current year’s salary cap (known as Cap Percentage Average),” Corry explained. “Since the running back number from the Cap Percentage Average projects to approximately $9.2 million if the 2019 salary cap is set in the $190 million range, Bell’s previous salary would be applicable.
“The precise language in the CBA defining the prior year’s salary calculation dictates that the 120 percent will be measured from the $12.12 million franchise tag Bell played under in 2017 because he is sitting out this season. Bell’s transition number would be same $14.544 million as his current franchise tag.”
While that $14.544 million transition tag is a lot less than $25 million, the early expected 2019 franchise tag amount for quarterbacks, which is the level the Steelers would have to use if they decided to use that mechanism a third-consecutive year on the running back, using that particular mechanism doesn’t come without quite a bit of downside.
For starters, the Steelers would have to carry that $14.544 million transition tag amount against the salary cap once exercised. Additionally, a transition tag would only provide the Steelers a right to match an offer sheet from another team that Bell decides to sign and one must think he would get one to his liking. Should the Steelers then ultimately decide to not match a signed offer sheet from another team, they would lose Bell to said team and without any sort of draft pick compensation.
Knowing the way the Steelers like to structure their long term lucrative deals and knowing the kind of offer sheet Bell would likely sign from another team, it seems like a a foregone conclusion that they would lose him and thus using the transition tag would be a fruitless and silly exercise.
The Steelers could transition tag Bell and then attempt to trade him to another team. However, the only way another team would be willing to deal for Bell is if they have full intentions of matching whatever offer sheet the running back might decide to sign with yet another team if unable to sign him to a long-term contract prior to the start of free agency. In short, trading for a transition- tagged Bell seems like a risky proposition.
While the Steelers can now, and likely will, resume negotiating a new contract with Bell and his agent Adisa Bakari now that the 2018 season is over, it’s hard to imagine the two sides striking some sort of deal prior to the tag deadline or the start of free agency in mid March. If no new deal can be finalized in the coming weeks, the Steelers would be probably best-served to let Bell test unrestricted free agency and thus let him go in return for hopefully a 2020 third-round compensatory draft pick value.
While it’s hard to read too much into what all Rooney had to say about Bell’s immediate future when he talked to the Pittsburgh media on Thursday, he did seemingly give us a tiny hint that the running back will likely be allowed to ride off into the sunset in the coming weeks because of the quality of talent the team believes he’ll leave behind in fellow running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.
“It looks like we have two good young players at that position at this point, so I feel like we’re in pretty good shape there,” Rooney said, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With Bell sitting out all of 2018, Conner and Samuels combined to rush for 1,229 yards and 12 touchdowns on 271 total carries. Those two running backs also combined to catch 81 passes for 696 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 2017, Bell rushed for 1291 yards and 9 touchdowns on 291 carries and he caught 85 passes for another 655 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“We’ve got a decision to make, so we’ll probably have some discussions with his [Bell’s] representative here in the next few weeks and kind of talk through that,” Rooney said on Thursday.
If those talks with Bell’s representatives go anything like they have the last two offseasons, they’re bound to be short ones and not very prosperous. In short, don’t expect the Steelers to do anything with Bell this offseason other than waiving goodbye to him.
In case you’re curious, February 19 is the first day that NFL teams can designate franchise and transition players. The deadline for tagging players this year is March 5 and the start of the 2019 new league year is March 13.